Since the 1970s, farmers in Ireland and the UK have been importing and breeding MRI cattle for dairy, beef and mixed enterprises.
This came essentially about by the Shorthorn Society’s effort to improve their breed as they embarked on a scheme known as “The Red Cow Improvement Scheme”. It is well known that the Shorthorn breed of cattle has two distinct strains, namely the beef strain and the dairy strain. The Dairy Shorthorn no longer fitted the bill for those farmers looking for a dual purpose animal. Various red breeds such as Danish Red, Normande, MRI and Angler were considered by the Shorthorn Society and tried on a controlled basis. In Ireland, Shorthorn breeder Colonel Watson of Ballingarrane Estate near Clonmel was very progressive and took an active part in the Scheme. After some extensive trials, the MRI breed of cattle was identified as fitting the criteria and has since been used by a number of Shorthorn breeders in the British Isles.
A side effect of the successful trials was that a number of breeders were so attracted by the merits of the MRI that a new breed society was formed in 1973, The MRI Cattle Society of the United Kingdom and Ireland, with a base in the UK. An upgrading scheme was introduced with the Society purchasing bulls and organising buying trips to and importation of pure-bred cattle from the Netherlands. By the mid-1980s MRI herds and Society membership in Ireland had got well established and semen sales funded the promotion and showing of Irish MRI animals at the Royal and Dairy Shows at Stoneleigh, UK. The first exhibition of MRI cattle at the National Ploughing Championships took place in 1988. To better allocate financial help to Irish breeders, the Society requested the formation of an Irish breeders club so that an entity rather than individuals could be financially supported.
In 1990, the MRI Breeders Club of Ireland was established. The new Club started to enthusiastically promote the MRI breed of cattle within Ireland. The MRI Cattle Society of the UK & Ireland’s annual open day was held in Ireland for the first time in 1991 when Klaas Becker of Co. Wexford hosted the well visited event which saw a lot of breeders travelling to Ireland from the UK.
In 1992, the first week in May was a milestone in MRI history when the RDS Spring Show held four different classes for MRI cattle – the first ever in the UK and Ireland – expertly judged by Bernard Zwaferink. It was at around that time that Dovea A.I. started taking notice of the popularity of the MRI in Ireland and they commenced a steady supply of pedigree semen which has continued to this day. December saw MRI cattle on show in Northern Ireland for the first time when the UK Society had a successful exhibit at the Winter Fair of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society in Belfast.
In 1993, the MRI Cattle Society of Ireland Limited was formed and membership increased to over one hundred. The MRI Cattle Society of Ireland is a non-profit making organisation and operates under the “Friendly Society” principle as a members’ co-operative under the rules of ICOS. The Society is a shareholder in ICBF.
Throughout the 1990s, the Club and later the Society mounted exhibits and showed cattle at the Ploughing Championships, the Royal Dublin Society shows, Teagasc’s Kildalton Agricultural Events, local shows including Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Kilkenny, Antrim and Pilltown, larger venues such as Tullamore and Limerick Shows as well as Millstreet, Ireland’s premier dairy show.
In 2005, the MRI Society started issuing pedigree certificates from information contained in ICBF’s electronic data base. It took a lot of time and effort to input correct pedigree data to that data base, now called TAURUS, and that work is ongoing.
(The Society thanks Mr & Mrs Paul Miller and Mrs Ann Bryan for their contribution to this article.)